SALALAH’S FIRST AQUA PARK
I’d arrived in Salalah on Monday evening on what I’d assumed to be a run-ofthe-mill work trip. You know, get shown around the place, interview a few people, send in a story for the next day’s paper and then head back home.
Little did I know though, that this trip was to be like no other I’d ever been on. I’d been invited to represent Times of Oman at the official opening of Hawana Salalah, the city’s first aqua park, and while this is normally something that only excites children (or indeed, the child in us), Hawana’s arrival seemed to excite many of Oman’s top ministerial brass.
We’d arrived to witness the opening of the Sultanate’s latest tourism offering on Wednesday evening, just as the sun’s golden rays were bouncing off the many pools inside Hawana. A decent crowd – primarily made up of park staff and organisers – had already assembled, but my attention was drawn past them, beyond the screen of paramilitary Royal Oman Police.
Hawana Salalah is Oman’s newest aqua park, and ensures there is something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
All of Oman’s top government officials were assembled behind them. Engaged in earnest conversation, it was great to see Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mehrizi, the Sultanate’s Minister of Tourism, hold forth as the minutes ticked down to Hawana’s official inauguration. Mehrizi, though, was only one of two chief guests who’d preside over the much-awaited ribbon cutting ceremony.
The other was Mohammed bin Sultan Al Busaidi, Oman’s Minister for State and the Governor of Dhofar. Truth be told, I felt a bit goosepimply in that room. It wasn’t due to the air-conditioning (there wasn’t need for any, because the constant cool winds from the sea meant Hawana Salalah always remained cool), but because here I was, on yet another momentous step on Oman’s historical ladder of development.
Before the festivities began, though, we’d been given a chance to see the park for ourselves, and like most things Omani, there is a certain understated appeal to Hawana Salalah that grows on you over time.
Hawana have ensured there is something for everybody at their new water park: from the twisting, turning slides that ensure people have a thrill of a lifetime without quite knowing when they’re going to hit the water with an almighty splash and the slip-and-slides which make you feel weightless for just that split second before coming back to earth and repeat that a few more times before you’re deposited,
grinning from ear to ear, in a pool that you just can’t help but lounge around in for a few more seconds than you know is appropriate.
But that’s the charm of Dhofar’s first water park. It’s so enticingly welcoming – and I mean that in a good way – that you just don’t want to leave. Their kiddie pool, a vast water feature complete with a plethora of fun water features, including one of those big buckets that splashes water on you every few minutes, occupies a good quarter of Hawana, with a cabana that’s set slightly away from the rest of the property providing both privacy and relaxation to families.
You might feel a bit jittery if you’ve come unprepared, but Hawana has taken care of that as well: their shop, conveniently located at the entrance, right next to the aqua park’s food court, which caters to a plethora of local and international tastes, serving everything from appetisers to ice cream to pizza and everything in between.
But this is just phase one of Hawana’s planned tourist destination. Construction began on the water park in March 2017, and was completed at the end of December, at a cost of OMR5 million. Salalah’s new aquatic adventure will span 65,600sqm when completed, and is set to be one of the biggest endeavours by Muriya, a joint company formed by the fusion of Egyptian tourism development company Orascom and Omran, the Sultanate’s leisure investment arm.
Hawana is, of course, part of the Sultanate of Oman’s Tanfeedh plans for economic diversification, the nation’s ambitious intentions to gradually wean itself off of fossil fuels and expand its economy to include other sources of revenue.
Before the opening of the park, I was able to catch up with Hani Salama, Hawana’s manager.
“We originally had three prices for our guests,” said Hani Salama, Hawana’s manager. “Those who are more than 110 centimetres tall will need to pay OMR10 to enter, while those who are under that height level can enter for OMR5. Guests who want to come to Hawana but not swim also need to pay OMR 5, and children under the age of three can enter for free.
“After we had a trial opening and did some market research, we found that there were many families asking us for a special rate, so we decided to introduce a special package for OMR20 for two adults and two children,” he added, “Because we expect many families to come here, we also set up the cabana a little bit far away from the rest of the aqua park so that
we can give them some privacy.”
Alongside agriculture, manufacturing, port services and logistics, tourism has been earmarked as one of the prime areas for expansion and diversification in Oman, and Salalah represents a previously hitherto untapped market with tremendous potential.
Potential that is already slowly being realised: Hawana is just one of four tourism development properties that have come up in the same area. Three resorts, currently fully booked, have also been set up next to the aqua park, each catering to a different clientele, and are chock full with world-class amenities, including restaurants, spas, water sports, shops, gyms and even regular trips to town.
While Al Fanar caters mostly to families, Rotana Salalah has made its name as a business hotel. If you’re looking for something that is quite literally between the two though, the luxurious boutique apartments of Juweira are what you’re looking for.
Salalah was once the heartbeat of the global frankincense trade, with the regions of Khor Rori, Samharam, Wadi Dawka, and Al Baleed once recognised as the centre of the ancient world’s trade in this sought-after resin, which was once worth its weight in gold. All of the resorts organise regular visits to these locations, which are now Unesco heritage sites, and are seen by tourists the world over.
“This plan was part of our commitment to not just improve the tourism offerings that Oman has, not just to increase the number of international tourists, but to also provide more facilities for local tourists within Oman,” added Peter Walichnowski, CEO for Omran. “Hawana is part of that plan, because this is an attraction that will be liked not just by foreign tourists, but also by those in the Sultanate, and the locals in the Dhofar region, and that’s why this is one that will be appreciated by everybody.”
Oman has plenty to offer to tourists from around the world, whether they are looking for their troubles to melt away as they listen to the calming sounds of the waves lapping against the seashore as palm fronds serenely sway overhead, or they chase the adrenaline that comes with scaling the Sultanate’s awesome mountains and fording its picturesque wadis.
Or, in the case of Hawana Salalah, experiencing the kind of pure, unadulterated fun that you just can’t put into words. One that has to be experienced to be felt. The feeling that truly does make Oman the Essence of Arabia.